He will be 92 next month. He has his daughter and son-in-law living with him at his home in Worcester and like the rest of us, he’s been watching TV, and staying alive.
Bob Cousy came back from his annual Florida winter stay in early May and, as ever, he’s on top of the news. Cousy’s not confident the NBA will be able to carry out its plan to resume games in the Orlando bubble next month and crown a 2020 champion in October.
“My guess is that nothing is going to happen,” Cousy said over the phone Monday. “I think everything is going to shut down. They’re going to continue having cases pop up where it’s going to be simply not viable to hold a season. I hope I’m wrong. What the hell do I know? I’m sitting here in Worcester.”
Cousy played in the NBA when it was all white. One of his Celtics roommates was Chuck Cooper, the first black person drafted into the NBA. Cooz teamed with Bill Russell to win six NBA championships and last year released a book, “The Last Pass”, in which he apologized to Russell for not doing more to understand the plight of a black athlete in Boston in the 1950s and 1960s. He believes team sports is an equalizer when it comes to race relations in America.
“I don’t want to raise sports competition to a level it doesn’t deserve,” said Cousy. “But I used to say that our thing in pro sports was somewhat connected to what I call the ‘foxhole syndrome.’ When you’re in a foxhole and the bullets are flying all over the place, the last thing on your mind is the color of the person next to you that will hopefully save your [butt]. That is the ultimate bonding.
“There is a similarity, I think, in that athletics is so competitive . . . winning that championship was all that we thought or cared about. So once the whistle blew, race and personality would go out the window. You would bond with the other four guys out there and everything else becomes secondary.
“It also induces a sense of camaraderie. In the 1950s, the most racist city we used to visit was St. Louis. [Russell] had to walk through the crowd to come on to the court and occasionally we’d hear the N-word. Across from where we stayed, there was a greasy spoon and we’d walk in there after the game — the black and white guys — and they’d say the black guys couldn’t eat there and we’d say, ‘Hey, this [expletive] shouldn’t be eaten by any human beings’ and we’d all turn and walk out together. Sports creates that kind of unity. Even if one of your teammates is a criminal, you’d probably support him because he’s going to help you reach the ultimate goal.
“I think it’s obvious that America is finally making some progress politically and in the streets in regard to race sensitivity and that’s a good thing. People are going to become ashamed of being racists and that’s a good thing. I thought we were going to make this step when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Now the world has responded to George Floyd and that’s a good thing. I’m pleased that we finally are making progress. I don’t know that will ever happen in Boston. My experience in Boston is that it is ingrained. Words are not going to do it. You’re going to have to look inside your heart.”
Cousy went to the White House last summer and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, from President Trump. He is one of three Holy Cross grads to receive the honor. One of the others is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is currently in Trump’s doghouse.
“Dr. Fauci is my hero,” said Cousy. “I had dinner with him when he gave a speech for one of my teammates many years ago and I have been bragging on him since then. I’ve noticed that our president has turned on him. That was inevitable. Tony has taken the cautious approach all along, but I think he’s a hell of a guy. He’s an honorable man and he’s conducted himself honorably. He’s simply told the truth as he sees it. I think he and Dr. [Deborah] Birx should walk in there and say, ‘Mr. President, we’ve given you all we’ve got, but we’ll be in Atlanta if you need us. We’re out of here.’ If you’re not going to agree with Trump or support him, you’re either out of there or he’s going to throw you under the bus, which is what is happening to Tony now.”
Mr. Basketball is taking the coronavirus very seriously. “It’s my people, those in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, that the damn thing is after . . . I’m staying quarantined. I come out of my box once a week on Thursday nights for my save-the-world meetings with five other old men at the Worcester Country Club. That’s the extent of my activity, other than worrying about so many of my friends who have been sick.”